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Disappointing Vote on Detainees

This post is about the 93-7 vote for passage for the FY 2010 defense bill.  Included in HR 3326 is this passage that I find completely contrary to American values:

Sec. 9010. (a) None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act or any prior Act may be used to transfer, release, or incarcerate any individual who was detained as of October 1, 2009, at Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to or within the United States or its territories.

This paragraph to me also betrays a lack of faith in this country’s to protect itself. We’ve had terrorists tried and incarerated on American soil many times before now. We didn’t even have to torture them first. No al-Qaeda black helicopters showed up to bust out their fellows. Of course, a number of people interned in Cuba have no demonstrable links to terrorism. If they did, we would have been able to convict them.

So the overwhelming passage of a bill that included a provision designed to hinder a return to American law and traditional values depresses me. Particularly coming from a Congress that made no move to stop President Bush from setting up extralegal prisons, geting the telecoms to spy on us without warrents or from asserting that a terrorist was anyone GWB said they were. Barely a peep and no action. But let someone try to undo some of this damage to our Constitutional principles and they’re right there with a giant STOP sign. If the DNC calls for donations, I’m not home.

I first wanted to call this post “93 cowards.” But aside from trying to commit to civility and focus on behavior and not personality traits, I realize that some Senators may have been opposed to sec. 9010 but thought that other parts of the bill — like keeping our military funded or making sure that the Alaska Territorial Guard gets the pensions morally due them — were worth voting against the rights of people without a voice, some of whom probably are bad actors. I don’t agree with that line of reasoning, but neither could I call it cowardice.

My next thought was to call this posting “Seven Heroes” for Senator Feingold and the six Republicans, including John McCain, who voted against the funding bill. Before coming to this conclusion, I checked the web sites of all the senators who voted against the bill. Some of them had statements explaining why they voted they way they did. None of them mentioned the detainee issue. Of the Senators who cited reasons, the main one was wasteful spending included in the bill. Senator McCain’s statement puts it well:

The bill also contains billions of dollars in wasteful spending, including $2.7 billion in member-requested earmarks and billions of dollars in unrequested weapons systems, which  is where you find $2.5 billion for C-17 cargo aircraft.  In order to stuff programs into the bill that the Pentagon didn’t request and doesn’t want and to enable members to continue in their pork-barreling ways, the appropriators cut over $3 billion in the military services Operations and Maintenance accounts.

Although it is a brave stand in America to stand against a military funding bill for any reason, I can’t use these seven Senators as an example of standing up for traditional American freedoms and against indefinite detention without trial in foreign lands.

So, my last non soundbite worthy but true title, “Disappointing Vote on Detainees.

What to do now? If President Obama were Bush, he’d sign the legislation and drop in a signing statement saying that Sec. 9010 unconstitutionally infringed on the unitary chief executive power and so he would be ignoring it.

But I don’t want him to do that because I believe in a nation of laws and not men. What he should do is one of the following:

1) Veto the entire bill and tell Congress he won’t sign anything that interferes with his authority to close down the Gitmo prison.

2) Sign the bill but file suit against Congress on the grounds that Sec. 9010 effectively denies habeas corpus, which is prohibited by Article I, section 9 of the US Constitution.

We’ll see what happens from here. But Democratic leaders everywhere should realize that they won’t be able to count on everyone who voted for them in 2008 in 2012 if they don’t start better distinguishing themselves from previous Republican policies. If we wanted Republicans in Congress, we would have voted for them.

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